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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

California Climate Action

Air Date: Week of December 2, 2005

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Next we turn to Living on Earth's Western Bureau Chief, Ingrid Lobet, to find out about what's been happening with greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the country. In California, automakers are bringing a court case to a state court because it has demanded lower greenhouse emissions in vehicles. They are threatening to file suits in all other states which seek to follow California's lead.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's not just in the east that there’s growing interest in regulating major emitters of greenhouse gases. With me to talk about developments on the other side of the continent is Living on Earth's western bureau chief, Ingrid Lobet. Hi, Ingrid. How’s the issue playing out there?

LOBET: Hi, Steve. Yeah, you are starting to hear talk about this subject here in California. The governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has his own climate action team, and they’re going to be presenting him with several different plans for letting power companies trade carbon credits. And then, the Los Angeles legislator who authored California’s climate change law for vehicles, Assemblymember Fran Pavley, she’s working on a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and from the oil and gas industry and cement makers. That would probably mean mandatory CO2 reduction, and could become a regional coastal initiative with Oregon and Washington.

CURWOOD: But all these are in the talk stages so far, aren’t they? Where the rubber literally meets the road is on California’s vehicle emissions law, and other states are now following suit. Tell me more about that, please.

LOBET: Right. As you know, California has this landmark law to limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. And when California passed that legislation it was a fierce fight with the auto companies because other states so often adopt California’s measures to fight air pollution. And that’s the same thing that’s happening here now with the greenhouse gas issue, as well. In fact, now states with combined sales of 30 percent of the American car market are now adopting California’s rules.

CURWOOD: So, if they proceed along the same timeline as California, what could that mean?

LOBET: It would mean that about three years from today, the 2009 model year cars would have to emit less carbon dioxide or one of the other greenhouse gases; 22 percent less by 2012; and 30 percent less by the year 2016.

CURWOOD: And this is currently the law in California?

LOBET: This is the law. The regulations that accompany the law have been written, they’ve been approved, and they go fully into effect in January in a few weeks.

CURWOOD: But right now the automobile makers are quite unhappy about this. They’re challenging the law in court. They started by filing a lawsuit in California. How’s that going?

LOBET: Right, they’ve already challenged New York, they’ve challenged Oregon, and they say that they will challenge every state that votes to adopt greenhouse gas rules. Because they say this is really about forcing carmakers to build cars with better mileage, and only the federal government is allowed to that. But as you said, of course, the real battle is the lawsuit that’s already been filed in California. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sued California in federal court in Fresno, and that case is proceeding. And recently the judge, Judge O’Neill, said that environmental groups could join with the sate to help it make its case. And, on the other side, he said, like, why is that the automakers could be joined by their friends in International Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers?

CURWOOD: Now, why is it important that environmental groups have been allowed to join this lawsuit? What’s the argument that environmental groups are helping to hone?

LOBET: California believes, and their environmental joiners agree, that their best argument is to go directly head to head with the car makers and argue that, in fact, they are regulating air pollution, not mileage, and that they are authorized to do that by the Clean Air Act. Where the case might get a little more interesting for the average listener is when the parties actually start to argue about whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. That’s a pretty important question for the country. And that aspect of the case could end up being decided in D.C. or in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

CURWOOD: And, in the meantime, the assembly line is already changing to accommodate the law?

LOBET: Well, we don’t exactly know that and it does raise an interesting question. You can’t just change an assembly line on a dime, and the first cars that will have to comply will be the ones in showrooms about three years from now. Of course, it’s not a radical reduction in emissions that they have to have by then, but it is interesting to note that the automakers have not asked the judge for an injunction. They’ve not asked to have the judge put the regulation on hold. So, yes, it’s going forward.

CURWOOD: Ingrid Lobet is Living on Earth’s western bureau chief. Thanks so much, Ingrid.

LOBET: You’re welcome, Steve.

 

 

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